The American College of Physicians (ACP) called on physicians to speak out against policy proposals seeking to deport the country’s undocumented population this week, warning that mass deportation would devastate public health.
Deportation could cause “distrust of anyone assumed to be associated with federal, state and local government, including physicians and other health care professionals providing care in publicly-funded hospitals and clinics,” ACP president Dr. Wayne Riley said, cautioning that the fear of being deported and deportation itself could cause a variety of emotional issues and trauma from family separations. He estimated that the effects of deportation could affect “millions of vulnerable people.”
The distrust in doctors isn’t misplaced. Between 2007 and 2013, hospitals sent back 600 undocumented patients to their home countries because of a lack of insurance. In an extreme case, the Center for Social Justice found a 20-year-old worker, who became nearly quadriplegic after a construction injury. When the hospital refused to prolong his care on a ventilator, he was deported and died in Mexico. A New Jersey hospital deported a comatose Polish immigrant after discovering that he didn’t have insurance. And most recently, a New York clinic denied a kidney transplant for an undocumented woman with end-stage renal disease before later recanting.
The ACP, which represents 143,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students, previously released a position paper in 2011 opposing mass deportation. But the organization reiterated its position in light of recent political rhetoric by Donald Trump, a 2016 Republican presidential frontrunner who called for an immigration policy plan that aims to deport the country’s undocumented population and potentially allow the “good people” back into the country.
Deportation fears could lead to a public health emergency, the organization warned, stating that distrust could lead to patients not obtaining needed care, such as highly infectious diseases like SARS and tuberculosis. Riley said that would especially be possible “if physicians in publicly-funded healthcare facilities would be required to report to authorities on the immigration status of those seeking care from them, as has already been proposed by some states. We would consider such reporting requirements to be an unacceptable, impermissible intrusion on the patient-physician relationship.”
The statement also said that physicians would continue to treat the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants as though they were any other U.S. citizens. Various presidential candidates have stated that they would likely seek to amend legislation that grants birthright citizenship to children born to foreign immigrants.
In a separate post, Robert Doherty, ACP’s senior vice president of governmental affairs and public policy, suggested that physicians must treat patients regardless of legal status because of the medical profession’s own standards of ethics and professionalism.
Studies have found that deportations could “heighten the risk for emotional distress and impaired quality of health” and that undocumented adolescents are at greater risk of anxiety than their peers, while children who live in mixed immigration status families where at least one parent is undocumented are prone to depression.
The aftermath of deportation also affects communities. It will especially impact the U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants who wind up in foster care or children conflating police with immigration officials.